So the Star Wars Battlefront Beta was available to play this weekend (and still is, at time of writing) on PC, PS4 and Xbox One and it was pretty good. That’s about it really. Not much you can say about less than half a game – only 1 of the single player modes was available (out of a worryingly small amount of single player content) and two of the 7 total multiplayer maps (info on three of the other modes was released today). While it’s hard to judge a full game by only three levels, as first impressions go, the Battlefront Beta did reasonably well.
The three game-types available include a single player/split-screen survival mode where players hold out against waves of assorted Stormtroopers; a capture-the-point style game where teams fight it out over a series of pods; and finally a huge 40 v 40 cluster-fuck set on the planet Hoth from Empire Strikes Back, where the rebels scramble to destroy the huge, lumbering AT-ATs before they destroy the base’s shields, and the empire forces just generally dick about. It was in this last one where I spent most of my time. It’s an addictive experience, to put it lightly. I found myself playing this map over and over – no two matches were the same and I was, initially, hooked.
The first thing that struck me was how genuinely eye-melting beautiful the game looks. The graphics are gorgeous – particularly on the snow-clad Hoth level – and animations seem smooth and seamless. The sound design, too, is particularly good – crisp and perfectly balanced with the iconic sound effects of blasters, TIE fighters, X-Wings and lightsabers all faithfully recreated. Player characters feel as if they have real weight as they sprint relentlessly from point to point, the earth shaking under the weight of the AT-AT’s plodding feet. More subtle visuals add to the general feel of the game, with the iconic PowerPoint-esque screen-wipe transitions making you feel like you’re in the movie. All these elements combine to create a genuinely gripping and initially overwhelming experience that had me glued to my controller. Just… one… more… game…
Your character of either a generic rebel or Stormtrooper (character customisation was unavailable in the beta) has access to a basic loadout of blasters, grenades and other equipment – including a jetpack, which can be both useful and hilarious. Your loadout can be augmented by various pick-ups that are strewn about the map. These provide you with things like rocket launchers, shields and different flavoured turrets. These pick-ups can also give you access to vehicles. Generally, characters can’t take many hits before snuffing it – but health regenerates after a short period so you can live to fight another day. There’s no ammo to worry about, but blasters will over heat and have a cooldown period, which can be sped up if you hit a button prompt at the right time. While dying over and over can get a bit old (especially if you keep getting spawned in stupid places), you’re never out of the action for long – just press a button and you’re straight back in.
While I do think these changes to weapons and loadouts generally lead to a more balanced game, I still missed the designated characters from Battlefront 2 (the PS2 version). Engineers or pilots repairing fighters on the move; heavy troops with rocket launchers able to deal with tanks and the like without having to run around desperately searching a vehicle-killing pickup; and the special troops that were a difficult to use, but lethal when handled right.
Speaking of, whereas Battlefront 2 would sidle up to you midway through the game and say “hey, you seem like a badass… fancy being a Jedi for a bit?”, hero units are reduced to random pick-ups on the map. Rather than a reward for playing well (or a consolation prize for playing badly, which would be an interesting dynamic), playing as Luke – anachronistically clad in black with a green lightsaber – or Vader depends on you being in the right place at the right time.
Flying TIE fighters and X-wings is just as awesome as it sounds. Ground vehicles are also available, with the Empire having the option of stomping around in an AT-ST or taking control of the AT-AT’s guns for a short period. Rebels get access to the speeders, which initially seemed a bit pointless until I watched someone insta-kill a walker with it. Vehicle pick-ups are not distributed randomly – rather they appear to be in designated places which are a pain in the arse to find. You find yourself in a foot race with your own team to get your hands on one, and the opposing side seems to spam them with suspicious regularity which slightly spoils the organic nature of the rest of the game. Players camping the spawns is unfortunately an annoying aspect of the game, but this is particularly galling when you’re in an X-Wing – for some insane reason, you are treated to a good minute of flying as your vehicle enters the airspace where you have no control whatsoever, but you can still be attacked. This leads to smart players hanging around the vehicle spawn point and ruining your day before you even get to turn round.
One element that really killed my enjoyment of the beta was the diabolical spawning issues. The game has a poorly explained partner system which arbitrarily pairs you with a random player (presumably you can pair with someone on your friends list too). This allows you to spawn right next to them, but this can be dangerous as there is no indication of where they actually are. Even when spawning randomly, I lost count of the amount of times I appeared next to a group of the enemy team, directly in front of an AT-ST, or within slashing distance of DARTH FUCKING VADER! It’s cheap, infuriating, and I sincerely hope they get it sorted before release.
So… yeah, generally the beta was fun, but also superficial and lacking in focus. Dice recently announced three other game modes that are intriguing, but I do find myself wondering how sustainable all this is. A comparison I have heard from a few people is that it reminds them of Titanfall – fun to play for a while, but ultimately not substantial enough to keep people coming back for more. Time will tell whether the EA season pass will include map packs or new mission types as DLC (fingers crossed) – but the apparent total lack of a single player campaign mode might be a deal-breaker for some.
But yeah… it was pretty fun!